The Cleveland Browns opened the preseason with a 27-19 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The part that you loved to see, though, is the fact that the first-teamers basically left the game with a 17-0 lead near the beginning of the second quarter. Let's get my complete game review to see which players shined and if anyone dropped the ball in their audition to make the 53-man roster.
|St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns|
PRESEASON WEEK 1 - ST. LOUIS RAMS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: QB Brandon Weeden - There were several players I considered giving the game ball to this week, but Weeden was too good at a consistent rate on his two drives to not pick him. He helped engineer two scoring drives on back-to-back possessions, both of which saw Cleveland get down into the red zone. We saw him with the opportunity to make a variety of throws in certain situations -- a third-down bread-and-butter play to WR Davone Bess, the deep in route to WR Josh Gordon, a successful screen pass, and several throws into the end zone.
Weeden's only throw that was way off was the fade to WR Greg Little, and based on what I saw last year, I just don't think that throw is a strength for Weeden. Weeden did respond the next play with a perfectly placed ball to Little in the end zone, but the pass went off his fingertips as CB Cortland Finnegan was tackling him with solid coverage. He finished the day completing 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and 1 touchdown. Superb offensive line protection helped him out too.
- Goat of the Game: CB Vernon Kearney - No kidding -- I re-watched the entire game, play-by-play, to determine whether I should give the goat award to CB Trevin Wade or someone else. Wade got beat on a big pass play by Bradford early, but due to the lack of All-22 and going based on what Kosar said, it might have really been a safety at fault. Wade also had a pass interference call later.
Ultimately, I gave it to CB Vernon Kearney. Late in the fourth quarter, he had outside coverage on a wide receiver. When he saw QB Kellen Clemons taking off, but still behind the line of scrimmage, he just abandoned the receiver and started racing after the quarterback. Clemons found Kearney's vacated receiver wide open and dumped a floating pass to him, and the receiver took it the rest of the way.
- Early Blitz Involves Mingo: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton didn't waste any time attempting a third-down blitz. On the Rams' first third-down of the game, they needed seven yards for a first down. Here is what the pre-snap alignment looked like to Bradford:
In the picture above, the Browns are going to bring a seven man blitz. There are three receivers being covered by three defensive backs, so there is only one safety in the middle of the field. This is obvious pre-snap, so Bradford knows he's going to have some man-to-man coverage.
As the blitz unfolds, no one gets an "immediate clear shot" at Bradford, but three men are ultimately going to be right on his heels. OLB Barkevious Mingo is coming on a bit of a delay, and he'll be the guy who comes untouched from the middle. It's interesting to see he's being utilized on the third-down blitz package right away. ILB Craig Robertson is matched up against a running back, so he gets an immediate upper hand and is the first to get to Bradford. OLB Jabaal Sheard bullrushes his man to the ground and is about to plow into Bradford as well.
Just a hair sooner, and this could be a fumble or an incomplete pass. Bradford does a good job staying calm and delivering a good throw to the outside, just in time, before he gets sandwiched by three defenders.
CB Joe Haden will be allowed on an island many times this season. This time, WR Chris Givens was able to get open. More times than not, that won't be the case. At the very least, the Browns' blitz had to leave a mark on Bradford.
- Early Snafu Covering the Screen: A little bit later, the Rams ran a screen play that went for a first-down. Why weren't the Browns able to stop it? Were they sucked in too much? Not quite.
Two players see the screen pretty early on: No. 71, Ahtyba Rubin, and No. 24, Johnson Bademosi. Depending on how crisp the pass is, Rubin may have a crack at diving at the running back from behind to stop the play for a loss.
The problem is that Bademosi starts shooting in. When the offensive lineman sees this, he turns around and gives Bademosi enough of a nudge to send his momentum toward the other end zone, and in the opposite direction of the running back. All of this creates an inadvertent pick on Rubin, which then makes it much easier for the running back to get up the field for a first down. Bademosi eventually comes back to make the tackle.
- Taylor Stays With it to Force a Fumble: "What I saw was big men that can run and little men that will hit." That is Ray Horton's mantra, but not the kind he's going to make his players recite, Eric Mangini style. Here is a little breakdown of the fumble that NT Phil Taylor created on the Rams' first drive.
Taylor first gets chipped by the center. I drew a little mark to show that the right guard is about to go low on Taylor to try to take him out of the play. The little "22" does not represent All-22, but rather a little shout out to CB Buster Skrine (off screen), who eventually hustled a good distance to scoop up the fumble.
There is the right guard trying to take out Taylor. It slows him for a second, but he regroups and quickly pursues the running back. If Taylor had gotten caught up with the right guard, the running back would have a nice gain here.
There goes the Tomahawk chop from Taylor. Speaking of big guys who can run, we later saw DE Billy Winn and NT Ishmaa'ily Kitchen run full-force to deliver huge hits on Rams ballcarriers.
- Adjustment by Weeden: This was something that play-by-play man Bernie Kosar quickly pointed out, and perhaps something that QB Brandon Weeden will be given more leeway with doing on his own in 2013.
Kosar says that this is a designed run to the left, but that the cornerback at the bottom is giving WR Josh Gordon an 8-10 yard cushion. What do you do -- run it with eight in the box, or throw a quick hitter to Gordon?
Weeden throws a quick hitter to Gordon. He has a fast delivery on it too. Remember, this is the type of play that Weeden would seem to have batted away by defenders last year. We also saw Weeden get a screen play off without a deflection. He did have a tipped pass during the game, but there was pressure and it basically seemed like a throwaway anyway. This completion to Gordon yielded 6 yards, which is more than a run would have gotten.
- Lewis Gets Crushed: This play highlights two things: the reason why the coaching staff likes Chris Ogbonnaya at fullback, and why RB Dion Lewis didn't have a better yards per carry average during the game.
The first circle shows Ogbonnaya. There was a blitzer who shot up the middle, and Ogbonnaya picks him up. LT Joe Thomas and TE Jordan Cameron are the two blockers entering the second level. Alright, this looks great, right? You'd think Lewis could score straight up the middle at this freeze frame.
Woops. Thomas overruns his guy, and Cameron can't get an angle on his guy either. Ogbonnaya is still doing a great job containing his guy. Lewis runs straight up the middle and is plowed by two defenders for a loss.
- Design of the Touchdown Pass: Here is a breakdown of QB Brandon Weeden's touchdown pass on third down to start the second quarter.
TE Jordan Cameron runs a quick out to the right. WR Greg Little and WR Davone Bess are the wider receivers on the left, and both of them are going to run stutter slants to the inside. WR Josh Gordon, closest to Weeden's left, will run to the back left corner of the end zone. RB Dion Lewis, the ultimate target, has a little quick fake.
It looks like Weeden knows exactly where he's going the whole time. The protection is great, and it has to be when Cleveland sends that many receivers out. Weeden has his choice of Gordon and Lewis as open targets. Even a good throw to Cameron would score. It looks like he wanted Lewis the whole way, though.
Kosar was very complimentary of the play selection and design here, but said he would've preferred to save this one for the regular season. This play is an example of why I liked Weeden's performance against the Rams: he remained calm and always seemed to know where he was going every play. The communication from the coaching staff is much better than last year, according to Weeden.
- Kicker Competition: That's it for the play breakdown for now, although I'll try to have a little more plays broken down over the weekend. The competition at kicker commenced, and I don't think we're any closer to naming a victor. Rookie Brandon Bogotay hit an easy 25-yarder, but missed a 54-yarder wide left. He had the distance, but not the accuracy. K Shayne Graham really hit two field goals -- a 36-yarder and a 41-yarder. The 36-yarder was pushed back by a penalty, but he hit both of them. I didn't see a distinct edge on kickoffs.
- Punter Competition: The punt by T.J. Conley to start things off wasn't the greatest. It only traveled 43 yards in air before being downed by the Browns. WR Tavon Austin clearly expected the punt to go deeper, but if he had known to play closer, that ball would've gotten to him in a hurry. Spencer Lanning got the next attempt, from pretty much the same spot on the field. Lanning's punt traveled 49 yards, but gave the returner the time to advance the ball forward 9 yards. The net was and scenario was even to Conley's. No clear winner on the first try.
The second punt, ironically, gave each punter identical scenarios as well. In the fourth quarter, 38 yards away from the end zone, Conley had a punt go 37 yards that was downed at the one yard line. That is huge when you're in a competition. Inside of two minutes to play, Lanning was 41 yards away from the end zone. He didn't need to down anything at the one yard line. Getting it inside the 10 would have been ideal. Instead, he booted the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Eek! We still need to evaluate these guys for three more full games, but the early edge here goes to Conley, the former Jets starter.
- Special Teams Contributions: Here are the players who saw a lot of work in coverage on special teams, a factor that should be taken into consideration when determining those final roster spots on the 53-man roster: LB Justin Cole, S Josh Aubrey, CB Akeem Auguste, S Kenronte Walker, and OLB Justin Staples. Besides Walker, the other four players also saw a lot of work on defense, with Cole and Staples both leaving definite impressions defensively.
There were three special teams tackles and two assists. The tackles belonged to ILB Tommy Smith, S Josh Aubrey, and WR Naaman Roosevelt. The assists went to OLB Barkevious Mingo and ILB James-Michael Johnson.
- Barnidge a Clear Part of the Offense: One of the things that may have gone unnoticed with the first-team offense: TE Gary Barnidge saw a lot of work in two tight end sets, and sometimes he was split as a receiver. He finished with only one catch, but right now, it looks like he'll be the second tight end, ahead of blocking TE Kellen Davis. When the Browns had their two goal line series under Weeden, Barnidge, not Davis, was in the game with Cameron as an extra blocker.
Speaking of Cameron, he had a pass go off his hands/shoulder that then went high into the air for a possible interception, before WR Greg Little made a Herculean effort to come down with the reception. (Aside: that catch by Little could very well have been the butterfly effect for the rest of the game, in terms of positive momentum).
The pass did have a ton of mustard on it, but Cameron has to find a way to bring that in. He also ran the third-down route shy of the sticks; it'd be nice to see him go an extra yard before turning around. He later made up for it by showing some nice speed on a 30-yard catch-and-run. I really am rooting for Cameron to be a successful contributor in this offense, so I hope that sparks something inside him moving forward.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, OG Jason Pinkston and TE Kellen Davis saw a lot of snaps. On defense, OLB Barkevious Mingo played about half the game, and CB Akeem Auguste played 87% of the snaps.
- Brownies: Defensively, amidst the backups, I thought DE Brian Sanford, OLB Justin Staples, ILB Tommy Smith, and ILB Justin Cole all stood out. ... OLB Barkevious Mingo was getting a lot of pressure, and also had a sack that was waived off due to a tripping penalty (which still benefited the Browns). ... Every receiver caught a pass except for WR Naaman Roosevelt, although he did catch a long pass (out of bounds) from QB Brian Hoyer. ... WR Dominique Croom made a nice, athletic grab.
I wish I could analyze WR Travis Benjamin's awesome 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, but WKYC's camerea were basically zoomed in on his helmet the whole play, rather than the coverage. ... RB Dion Lewis saw first reps at kick return and looked good. ... In limited action, QB Jason Campbell and QB Brian Hoyer both looked competent, but as crisp as QB Brandon Weeden. ... Veteran OT Rashard Butler had a false start and didn't see much playing time. ... Bernie Kosar was awesome on commentary, and yes, the Rams' receivers as a whole did look awful. ... The Browns converted 9-of-16 (56%) third-down attempts, including 4-of-5 under QB Brandon Weeden. ... Weeden's first third-down completion went to WR Davone Bess on a motion out route.
Up next, the Browns will host the Detroit Lions at home on Thursday. Feel free to leave some more of your thoughts on the game, and let me know if there are any specific plays you'd like me to try to break down from the victory over the Rams.